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Your Pet, Your Volunteer Partner

Teaming up can strengthen your bond while helping others.

En español | Pausing at the door to the hospital room, volunteer Mimi Weinstein was about to ask whether the patient inside wanted a visit when she noticed the woman was crying. "Are you all right?" Weinstein asked. "I can always come back later."

"No, no," the woman responded, inviting her in. "I'm just sad."

So Weinstein, 52, moved toward the bed. And with her went her dog, Tickles, 10 1/2. The composed, good-natured boxer began licking the patient's hand. She laughed.

She was still laughing when Weinstein and Tickles left. "There's no other treatment like that," Weinstein says, "where you can go from crying to laughing in a nanosecond."

Which is why Weinstein and Tickles visit patients at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, N.H., as often as three days a week. The sprawling facility keeps about a dozen dog-and-owner teams in its rotation of 600 volunteers — including smaller dogs, several golden retrievers, and a newly enlisted Great Dane. The volunteer Hug a Hound teams are a hit.

"Anything you can do to help a human being be happier is better for health," says Erin McMahon-Farnum, a registered nurse and services coordinator at the hospital.


Weinstein's own deeply personal experience of how dogs interact with the very ill inspired her visits to DHMC with Tickles. Her daughter, Brianna, was diagnosed as a toddler with leukemia, and died 13 years ago, at age 12.

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